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Somalia strains Pax Christi.

LOWELL, Mass. -- For more than a decade, Pax Christi U.S.A has served as a symbol of Catholic resistance to U.S. foreign and nuclear policies. In the early 1980s, the organization helped bring about a more critical stance toward nuclear arms by the nation's bishops. Later, Pax Christi rallied many Catholics against the invasion of Panama and, after that, the war against Iraq.

Now the nation's leading Catholic peace group finds itself in an unfamiliar position: having to explain why or in what way it is supporting the latest interventions by the U.S. military in Somalia.

Different people in Pax Christi are saying different things about what the United States has done in Somalia and what their influential organization thinks about it.

The period of uncertainty began shortly after U.S. Marines landed in Mogadishu. From its national office in Erie, Pa., Pax Christi responded with a Dec. 7 statement that appeared to lend qualified support to Operation Restore Hope. Then the statement came under friendly fire from Catholic peace activists who said it should have said more about the Christian ideal of nonviolence. Now the 12,000-member group has issued a "clarification" that takes a stronger stand against military solutions in Somalia.

What is going on in Erie?

Like other peace groups, Pax Christi is grappling with new questions that have come in from the Cold War's end. The big conflict between superpowers has broken up into many little conflicts around the globe.

Partly because of the old East-West rivalry, people like clan leaders in Somalia have lots of weapons at their disposal. And with these arms they have caused untold misery in their midst. So peace activists are asking. What can be done to disarm these people and save innocent lives -- peacefully?

"I think we are grappling with the serious need for the international community to respond to a situation of incredible violence," said Sister Anne McCarthy, a Benedictine nun and national coordinator of Pax Christi U.S.A. "At the same time, we do not want to see the United States using unilateral military intervention to respond to a humanitarian crisis.

"What we don't want to do is put our heads in the sand and say that, because we support absolute nonviolence, we can't say anything about this situation."

By saying things about the situation, Pax Christi has taken the plunge into moral ambiguity. And the explanatory remarks of their leaders have only added to the confusion.

For example, McCarthy stressed in a telephone interview that the group does not support the U.S. military operation in Somalia. But the bishop-president of Pax Christi, Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, Va., said in a separate interview that he thought the organization was doing just that. And he said it is a good thing.

Sullivan said Somalia marks the first time Pax Christi has supported intervention by U.S. armed forces. But he quickly added that he sees it as a basically humanitarian, not military, undertaking.

"I don't see how any sanity and saving of lives can come without some use of force," he said. "This doesn't mean violence. It's a preventative action."

Another view came from Sister Mary Lou Kownacki, a Benedictine and McCarthy's predecessor as national coordinator of Pax Christi. Kownacki said she was uncomfortable with the group's Dec. 7 statement.

"I'm just sorry that the idea of Christian nonviolence was not articulated more strongly. I really believe it's a responsibility of the Catholic peace movement to always uphold that," said Kownacki. She lives in the same Benedictine community as McCarthy.

"Sending in troops looks good in the short term. But how long do they stay? Can they make matters worse?" she asked.

"It's a tough situation, because you see the pictures of starving children on television," Kownacki said. "And I don't minimize the sacrifice of the soldiers.... We in the peace movement haven't made the same sacrifices that the soldiers make every day. Until then, we have to be cautious" in criticism.

The first Pax Christi statement on Somalia stressed the moral obligation of the "entire human family" and the United States in particular to intervene on behalf of the people there. At the same time, the group said the forces should be placed under the command of the United Nations, not the United States.

Many Pax Christi members interpreted this as support for the military campaign, and so did The New York Times in a Dec. 21 article by religion correspondent Peter Steinfels. In response to pressure from within, the organization released its clarification on Dec. 29 as NCR went to press.

The new statement says flatly that Pax Christi U.S.A "does not support the U.S.-led military action in Somalia." It lifts up the ideal of nonviolence and envisions the possibility of an "unarmed |army' of peacemakers who would be willing to risk their lives in a human shield around humanitarian convoys" to get food to the people.

Yet, the statement acknowledges that the nonviolent alternative "is not now at hand." And it says many Pax Christi members would support "a traditional U.N. peacekeeping force with a limited mandate to protect relief supplies." The bottom line: reluctant support for a more unilateral police action.

Sullivan, whose interview remarks were mostly in praise of the U.S. effort, was not available for further comment when the more critical statement came out. But McCarthy said both statements were drafted by Pax Christi's 14-member staff in consultation with Sullivan, as bishop-president, and Marie Dennis, chairwoman of the group's policymaking National Council.

The 12-member council is elected in mail ballots by the membership, which includes 90 active and retired bishops or roughly a quarter of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy.
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Title Annotation:ethics of Operation Restore Hope
Author:Bole, William
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 8, 1993
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